Happy, Healthy New Year: Weight loss basics

Via chrisbyrnes.com

We’ll spend the first few weeks of 2013 looking at issues of particular relevance to many of you as the new year unfolds. Today, the first working day of the year, we start our Happy, Healthy New Year — heretofore shorthanded to HHNY — segments with what’s likely at the top of most of your lists: losing weight. I originally wrote the following for the Charlotte Observer, where it appeared last month. Click on each section entry for more information.

You want to lose 25 pounds and live a healthier lifestyle, but do you know why?

If the reason is simply because you think you should, then your resolve to lose weight in 2013 is already in deep trouble.

“It’s all about determining goals,” says Julianna P. Canfield, director of fitness for YWCA Central Carolinas. “Why do you want a healthier lifestyle? Is if for an upcoming trip? That’s good, but what is your next goal?” To keep pace with your kids? To not fit into your pants like sausage into casing? Your goals, she says, need to be specific and sustainable.

“It needs to become a behavior,” adds Dr. John Tomcho with the Carolinas Weight Management & Wellness Center in Charlotte. “It need to be something you can embrace, something you can picture yourself doing 10 years from now.”

And, your goal needs to be realistic.

“Some people think they should get back to the weight they were at 21,” says Tomcho. “But even reducing your weight by 10 or 15 percent, you’ll see a lot of health benefits.”

Now that we’ve got the big picture out of the way, what other advice do Canfield and Tomcho have for dropping weight — and keeping it off — in the new year?

Avoid fad diets. “Take a balanced approach to your diet,” says Tomcho. Diets that eliminate all  carbs or fats may result in short-term weight loss but aren’t sustainable, says Tomcho. While that balance varies from person to person, you should shoot for 30 percent of your diet to be protein (which will make you feel full longer), 45-50 percent should be from healthy carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and whole grains), and 15-20 percent from unsaturated fats (nuts, avocados, fish, certain oils).

Avoid sugary drinks. Fruit drinks, sodas, sweet tea all can quickly pile on the calories. “Switch to flavored water, with or without bubbles,” suggests Tomcho.

Pace your weight loss. You may want to lose weight as quickly as possible but losing too much too quickly can be unhealthy. A general rule of thumb, endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is to lose no more than two pounds per week.
Be accountable. When it comes to New Years’ resolutions, Canfield says, “People are all gung-ho in January, then fizzle.” You’re less likely to fizzle, studies have found, if you’ve shared your goals with others. To that end, the YWCA will launch a program in February that will match people by age, the time they like to work out, the exercises they like to do, among other things. Then, says Canfield, they’ll be encouraged to workout together and keep in touch to monitor one another’s progress.

Keep a journal. “Studies have shown that an important factor in watching your diet is journaling,” says Tomcho. Recording what you eat, in particular, makes you conscious of exactly how much you’re eating and how many calories you’re consuming. Also record your activities and how you’re feeling. The latter can help you in figuring out better ways to …

… deal with stress. When we get stressed we have a tendency to eat. A lot, and typically not healthy foods. Not a good response, says Tomcho. Rather, he suggest you first figure out what stresses you then try to avoid it. Since that’s not always possible (unless, say, you can stop going to work or battling rush-hour traffic) figure out another way to deal with the stress. “Go for a walk, write in your journal, talk to a friend,” says Tomcho. “Anything to keep you from eating.”

Get active. Moving is key, say both Tomcho and Canfield. However, a lot of people think that once they start exercising they can eat anything. “Most people really don’t burn a lot of calories exercising,” says Tomcho, especially when they’re first starting out. But being and staying active is vital toward establishing healthy, long-term habits. Plus, exercising releases endorphins which can help you deal with the stress that causes you to eat in the first place.

Mix it up. Part of the February fizzle Canfield referred to results from people becoming bored with doing the same exercise over and over. Not only do you get bored but your body gets used to the routine and becomes more efficient at performing the exercise; as a result, you burn fewer calories. To combat the double whammy of boredom, for instance, the YWCA, for instance, offers an 11-week Winter Boot Camp in which no two workouts are the same.

Don’t deprive yourself. If you grew up in a house where your mom was constantly surviving on cottage cheese and grapefruit, you’re likely of a mind that healthy eating is boring eating. Not so, says Canfield. One of the YWCA’s programs aimed at New Year’s Resolutioners, New Year, New You, includes a grocery store tour and a cooking class conducted by a local business specializing in vegetarian and vegan dishes.

“You’re going through a healthy lifestyle change,” says Canfield. “The key is to do things in moderation.” Of that piece of cake or slice of pie, she advises, “You can have it as long as you’re paring it with with good diet and exercise.”

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More info

  • For more information on the healthy living classes offered through the YWCA of the Carolinas, go here.
  • For information on recommended dietary guidelines, check out the USDA’s Food Pyramid here.
  • For an overview of healthy weight loss, check out what the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has to say on the subject:

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